US takes financial steps against Chechen rebel Umarov

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took action Wednesday to help stem the flow of funds and other aid to Doku Umarov, a Chechen rebel leader wanted by Russia for deadly attacks, a US official said.

The action against Umarov, who has styled himself as head of the "Caucasus Emirate," comes on the eve of a visit to Washington by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and is another sign of stronger US-Russia ties.

Clinton has "designated" Umarov, who has united ragtag rebel groups in southern Russian regions in a drive to establish Sharia, or Islamic rule, in the North Caucasus, under Presidential Executive Order 13224, Clinton's spokesman Philip Crowley said.

The order "targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism. This action will help stem the flow of financial and other assistance to Umarov," Crowley said in a statement.

"This designation represents just one phase of the United States government's response to the threat posed by Doku Umarov," Crowley said.

"The action taken today against Umarov supports the US effort to degrade Umarov's ability to exert operational and leadership control over Caucasus Emirates," he said. "We are determined to eliminate the group's ability to direct violent attacks and to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Umarov's network," he added.

Daniel Benjamin, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, said the action against Umarov is "in direct response to the threats posed to United States and Russia," according to the statement.

"The recent attacks perpetrated by Umarov and his operatives illustrate the global nature of the terrorist problem we face today," Benjamin said.

"We stand in solidarity with the Russian people in our condemnation of these deplorable terrorist acts," he added.

The bearded rebel fighter claimed responsibility for the bloody metro bombings that killed 39 people in Moscow in March. He has been battling pro-Kremlin forces in two separatist wars in Chechnya since 1994.

He was known as an ally of notorious rebel chief Shamil Basayev, who claimed to have led dozens of attacks, including the infamous 2004 Beslan school hostage siege that killed over 330 people, most of them children.

Umarov became head of the Chechen guerrilla movement in June 2006 after Basayev was killed by Russian forces a month earlier.

© 2010 AFP

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